Tim Wilkerson has been in this situation before and has seemingly always responded in strong fashion. Heading to a track that has yielded a number of special moments, the Funny Car standout is ready to produce once again under pressure.
Currently 10th in the 2014 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Funny Car points standings, Wilkerson knows it is imperative to finish the three-week Western Swing strong with just two events following it before the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship begins. The good news is Wilkerson holds three wins at the final stop of the Western Swing, Pacific Raceways, which plays host to the 27th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Northwest Nationals presented by Super Start Batteries, Aug. 1-3.
It is a battle to the finish line and the top 10 that Wilkerson is set on making once again. He remains confident his 10,000-horsepower Levi Ray, & Shoup Ford Mustang will come through when it matters.
“It's important to do well every week, not just when the regular season is wrapping up,” Wilkerson said. “We've usually been a team that's on the edge a little as the regular season ends, and here we go again. We've found a way to get in the Countdown during some years when the odds were against us. The key to Seattle is just getting to the other end under power. You're not there to break records; you're just there to win rounds.”
Morgan Lucas (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car), and Vincent Nobile (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners of the event that will once again be televised nationally on ESPN2. It also marks the 16th of 24 events during a 2014 NHRA season that took a sudden downturn for Wilkerson at the end of the most recent four-race stretch.
Following his first final-round appearance of the season in Bristol, which bumped him to ninth in points at the time, Wilkerson met his first major struggle of the season. He lost in the first round in Epping, Chicago, and Norwalk, dropping him out of the top 10 and leaving him wondering what went wrong at an important juncture of the season. He has since rebounded to 10th, with three races to go.
“At first, nothing went wrong,” Wilkerson said. “We went to Epping and had the best car and ran the best lap of the day in round one but got beat by six inches on a holeshot that could have gone either way. That was such bad luck I think the car heard about it, and we went to Chicago and struggled a little. Norwalk was just lousy, and everyone has races like that. What I can pinpoint is that starting at Bristol we tried to be more aggressive and it worked. It worked in Epping, too, but then we might have gotten off the rails a little in Chicago and Norwalk. It's a fine line you have to walk, and we stepped over it a couple of times.”
The good news is Wilkerson has often been on point in Seattle, winning in Funny Car three straight years from 2009-2011. Those positive vibes and memories are a big boost, especially when the talented field includes the likes of defending winner Hagan, John Force, who has seven Seattle wins, Courtney Force, whose first Funny Car win came at the track in 2012, as well as points leader Robert Hight, Del Worsham, Jack Beckman, Ron Capps, Cruz Pedregon, Alexis DeJoria, and Tommy Johnson Jr.
“Each time we just kind of outsmarted them and got our Levi, Ray & Shoup car down the track,” Wilkerson said of his victories. “I remember going into the final round each time thinking that we had an advantage because nobody was getting down the track any better than us. That’s when you go up there confident that if you do it again, the odds of the other team overreaching a little are pretty good. By the third year in a row, it was just a great feeling to get there and get going.”
That winning mentality could also be important for Wilkerson, who has 17 career wins but none since his last Seattle victory in 2011. The rising pressure surrounding the Countdown to the Championship is apparent, but Wilkerson remains confident in what his team is capable of producing this time of year.
“We expect to be a playoff team, and we've always been a playoff team, even when it's been a mountain to climb just to get in,” Wilkerson said. “The good thing, for us, is that we really don't let it change the way we do our work. My guys are great at making each lap the same, and as a crew chief, I think I've done a good job at that. You don't look too far ahead.”
As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and enjoy some cherished face time and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food, and fun for the entire family.
The race also will feature the thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series.
NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying begins Friday, Aug. 1, with sessions at 2:30 and 5:30 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, Aug. 2, at 12:30 and 3:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for Sunday, Aug. 3, at 11 a.m.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call NHRA at 800-884-6472 or visit www.NHRATIX.com. Kids 12 and under are free in general-admission seating areas.